Bristol’s folklore-inspired grungers Wych Elm drifted, wraith-like, into The Bodega last week, bringing with them visions of yore, ruffle-necked shirts and chunky bass tones...
This gig had been rescheduled at least once, so the band’s appearance was hotly anticipated. This five date UK tour comes on the back of a brand new EP Field Crow, bringing seven tracks of “grunge for the common reader” / “medieval bard core” depending on which day the band is asked about it. It’s a really great little EP that I would recommend to anyone who has even heard of them before, and a few listens set me in good spirits for a live performance.
I looked at the line-up in surprise as I entered The Bodega. Really? Soaphead and Skitz Wizards? Aren’t they both heavy bands? My dear reader, they were indeed heavy bands.
You can’t beat a double bill of local supports, and both bands absolutely rose to the occasion. Soaphead’s brand of aggressive, distorted, often screamed rock music may seem a little far from Wych Elm’s vibe at the surface level, but peel back the layers and I think you will see more similarities than differences. An air of bleakness about both, a real punch in the low frequencies, a good amount of hair in both bands. They performed really well and earned their place on the line-up, bringing a host of enthusiastic fans through the doors nice and early. One to look out for, and who seem to be popping up more and more around Nottingham these days.
Skitz Wizards came on next, a growing staple of the burgeoning Nottingham hardcore scene. Somehow this was the first time I had caught them live, and it really left my wondering why I hadn’t made more effort to do that sooner. They bring an incredible intensity to their dense, visceral music in the live setting, even with one of their bass guitars causing a lot of tech issues. That’s right, I said “one of” their bass guitars; the band plays with two basses, drums, vocals and nothing more. I loved this, a fresh sound while remaining extremely hard hitting. They nonchalantly talked of how they had released a song (Enough) that very day, demonstrating the off-handed coolness they carried throughout their set. You only get this from truly confident musicians.
One of my many hot takes is that limb swinging in the pit isn’t cool when the headline band aren’t heavy, and that was a problem during this set, but I know that is just the grumpy old man in me talking. I just feel bad seeing tweeny indie fans stood in the corner looking terrified while some six footer in a Carhartt beanie does his best Doctor Octopus impression, you get me? Yeah mate, you sure scared those fourteen year olds, and no I don’t have a lighter on me.
With my guard lowered, Wych Elm arrived to finish the night in style. I have always struggled to put Wych Elm’s vibe into words, and I still do, but one thing I can say is that their clothing choices match it perfectly. I don’t really know how to describe those either. Medieval peasant who shops at Cow? Vampire on its day off? Just look at them and you will know what I mean.
Wych Elm’s interplay between the grungey, driving bass tone and shrill, piercing guitar lines is a hallmark of their sound, and I am happy to say they nailed it live too. It serves as an excellent bed for the ethereal vocals to lie delicately on top of. As frontwoman Caitlin Elliman described, the song choice for that night acted as somewhat of a chronology of their expanding discography, from older songs like Woman from 2019’s Rat Blanket EP to brand new songs from Field Crow. Particular highlights from this album were singles Virgin Mary and Burnt at the Stake, both bringing a catchy hook mixed in with a slightly rowdier feeling than their older material. I think this suits them well live, particularly on such a heavy line-up!
Finally, I must address the elephant in the room. School Shooter was a glaring omission from the setlist, surely intentionally dropped in an attempt to not be defined by their debut song, which remains their most streamed by a significant margin. They even teased it with a “This is our final song… whatever shall we play?” I can imagine the frustration bands feel in situations like this, not wanting one song from 2017 to define their whole career, not wanting to be hear “hey, you’re the band who did that one song!” for the hundredth time. That being said, it does rub me up the wrong way when bands do this. I can’t help but see it as a little self-important, fans have paid hard earned money (or in my case, written a silly little review) to see you play live and they deserve to have a good time.
I always think of Brendan B. Brown (of Wheatus fame) when this topic comes up. As perhaps the most prominent one-hit-wonder band of the past thirty years, he is often asked if he gets tired of playing Teenage Dirtbag, or if it bothers him that many people at their shows are there for that one particular song. “Of course not,” I remember him saying in an old interview; “I’m blown away that over twenty years later, one song that I wrote in my mom’s basement still brings so much joy to so many people”. I think Wych Elm might want to take a leaf out of his book.
Wych Elm performed at The Bodega on 18 November 2023
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